29 And now, as Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites, that it was their intention to destroy their brethren, or to subject them and bring them into bondage that they might establish a kingdom unto themselves over all the land;
30 And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem; therefore, he found by his spies which course the Lamanites were to take.
Captain Moroni was the leader of the Nephite armies, and they were defending themselves and their families against an invading army. He had prepared his people as well as he could, providing them with weapons and armor (Alma 43:18-19
) and gathering them together (Alma 43:26
). He also sent spies to learn about the movements of the enemy, and he even sent a messenger to the prophet Alma to seek additional insight by revelation from God (Alma 43:23-24
). Now, his army was not only better armed than their opponents, but they possessed superior intelligence, which would enable them to trick the other army and gain the advantage over them.
At this point, it’s not surprising that Moroni would employ a “stratagem” to help them win their first battle. What I find intriguing is Mormon’s justification of Captain Moroni’s actions:
- The Lamanites were trying to destroy his people.
- His people were only trying to defend themselves.
- Therefore, in this circumstance, it was not a sin to deceive the Lamanites.
I think it says something about Captain Moroni’s honesty that he even had to think that decision through in the first place. He was fighting a war, after all. But he was a straight shooter, a person who had nothing to hide and who preferred to have all of the facts on the table, with no hidden agenda. (See, for example, Alma 60:27-28
.) It was out of character for Moroni to withhold the truth, and so it took some thinking to convince himself that this was the right course of action in the current situation.
It would be so convenient if all of our decisions were between black and white. The Lord commanded, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13
). But as Mormon teaches us in this chapter, God also said, “Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed” (Alma 43:47
). As my friend Bob McGee once pointed out in a talk on agency, we all face many decisions between good and evil, but we also face decisions between good and better, and sometimes we face decisions between bad and worse. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we may find ourselves in situations where we have to make the best possible decision out of the undesirable options available to us, not out of the options we wish we had (Moses 5:10-11
). That’s hard, especially for people who want to be perfectly obedient, and it requires us to do the kind of soul-searching that Moroni had to do on this occasion: “I wish circumstances were different, and if they were, I would make a different decision. But they’re not. Given my alternatives, what is the right thing to do?”
Today, I will be honest with myself about the decisions and the constraints I face. I will recognize that Heavenly Father is aware of my needs, and part of my “probation” (Alma 42:4, 10, 13
) is to face difficult decisions which help me grow and which enable me to demonstrate my love for Him.